Welcome to Flashback Friday, a weekly feature devoted to the 20th anniversary of the 1986 World Champion New York Mets.
Twenty years. Forty-three Fridays. This is one of them.
The regular season ended as it began, with the Mets conquering the Pirates. From Lenny Dykstra drawing a walk off Rick Reuschel on April 8 in Pittsburgh to Sid Fernandez striking out Bobby Bonilla on October 5 at Shea, it was everything Mr. Johnson in the dugout promised. It was dominance.
It was as close to perfect as one could hope to get. 162-0 being out of the question, 108-54 sounded just right. Two wins for every loss, over and over and over and over again.
There was an 18-1 stretch. And a 22-7. And a 14-4. And a 14-3. And, to finish things off, another 14-4.
The Mets led the National League in batting average, slugging average, walks, runs batted in and at-bats. That last one seems pretty remarkable considering how many bases on balls they received and how often they were able to skip the bottom of the ninth.
No N.L. pitching staff registered a lower ERA or walked fewer batters intentionally. Intuitive reasoning says our pitchers weren’t afraid of any hitters.
The phrase “career year” was in vogue in the mid-’80s. The Mets lost to the Cubs in ’84 because Ryne Sandberg enjoyed a career year. The Mets lost to the Cards in ’85 because Tommy Herr put up a career year. In ’86, no single Met could claim a career year on the level those theretofore middling infielders achieved, but none had to. As a franchise, the 1986 Mets had a career year.
So it was a very definitive moment when El Sid retired Bobby Bo to seal the 108th win. Even the final score was absolutely apropos: 9-0. That’s the score they assign forfeits, and as good as the Mets were 20 years ago, it felt like the National League flat out surrendered to their majesty. Laid down their bats, their gloves, their will to compete.
108-54 was something to behold on October 5. And you know what it meant on October 8, the night the Mets faced the Western Division champion Astros in the first game of the 1986 National League Championship Series?
Not a damn thing.
For as much as we were sure it was our year, Astros fans were certain of the same thing. In Boston, Red Sox fans had that same feeling. In Anaheim and environs, Angel acolytes would have said, no, we’re the ones.
Only one of us four could be right. If it wasn’t us, what would those 108 wins mean? What if we didn’t win the World Series? Geez, what if we didn’t get past those nasty Astro pitchers? How would we remember 1986? Would Mookie Wilson conjure vague images of a speedy fellow who didn’t get on base enough to merit batting leadoff? Would Jesse Orosco be recalled as a reliever whose last solid season was 1984? Ray Knight had a good April, didn’t he? And who was that runt who played in the outfield sometimes…Benny, Kenny, Lenny…?
Yeah, it was a spectacular season. But its coda — the postseason — would determine its meaning. On October 5, 1986, we could be happy. But we couldn’t be satisfied. You don’t wait all your life for a season like that to end it with a division title. In 1986, the Mets had to…had to win the World Series, just like in 1969.
And you know what? So do you.
You have to win the 1986 World Series. And the 1969 World Series. Right now.
What the hell am I talking about? I’m talking about a chance for you to set an example for your 2006 New York Mets. I’m talking about an opportunity to be victorious in the name of Mookie and Jesse and Sugar Ray and Lenny as well as Tommie and Cleon and Kooz and Little Al Weis.
With an assist from A&E Home Video, we have a copy of The New York Mets Vintage World Series Films DVD. It is a restored, digital rendering of the official MLB 1969 and 1986 Fall Classic retrospectives. These are the flicks that used to fill the rain delays on Channel 9 and SportsChannel. You’ve seen them. You’re dying to see them again.
I’ve just seen them again. They’re gorgeous in every sense of the word. Vin Scully narrates ’86, Curt Gowdy ’69. The ’86er, to tell you the truth, is a bit cheesy with the oversized graphics and the synth score (if you’re a fan of the UK version of The Office, it will remind you of the “Training” episode), but why quibble? It’s the 1986 World Series. And the ’69er is a remarkable curio of that strange space in time that the 1969 Mets occupy, that moment when the past was inevitably meeting the present (watch for tons of product placement; it’s adorable).
You’ll want this disc in your baseball library. And I want you to have it. You may have seen other blogs give this or other A&E releases away. They all have their own rules, some easier than others. I want you to have this so bad, I’m going to make it very simple.
I’m going to administer an open-blog quiz. It will be a breeze for you, the faithful Flashback Friday reader. Every answer is sitting ripe for the plucking in a Flashback Friday entry from this year. All you have to do to find them — if you haven’t committed them to memory — is look them up. And all you have to do to find previous Flashbacks is go to the first paragraph of each post and click.
What’s that? That sounds like hard work? Dude, we’re talking about 1969 and 1986! The least you can do for your two championships to date is a little clicking and scrolling and maybe some rereading. But if you are feeling put out, let me sweeten the pot. I will include, at my own personal expense, a copy of the current smash CD, Eye to the Telescope by British singing sensation KT Tunstall. It features her catchy hit single “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree”. Its connection to 1986? While the Mets vamped on 1986 reunion night, killing time between the ceremonies and the game, they played the video for this song on DiamondVision.
Also, Stephanie and I each recently bought the CD on the very same day and she opened hers first and I’m too lazy to return mine. Hence, you’re the beneficiary of our miscommunication and my sloth.
The rules: Twenty years, twenty questions. First to e-mail me (email@example.com) twenty correct answers wins. Should nobody come through with a 1969 regular season win total score of 100 by 11:59 PM, Thursday October 5, the first entry containing the most correct answers of all received will be declared the winner. All judges’ decisions are final. (I don’t know what that last part means, I just wanted to make it sound official.)
Enough talk. Win the World Series.
1. What did my mother refer to Danny Heep as?
2. Where did Joel and I go for lunch when Opening Day II was rained out?
3. What did Mr. Jarvis at the hobby shop trade Geoff Hayton for a ball autographed by the ’86 Mets?
4. Who didn’t expect her husband to take his shoes off after a game?
5. What was the theme of the 1986 Old Timers Day?
6. When the ticker-tape parade crowd began booing Mayor Koch, who did he start to introduce?
7. What distracted Larry Russo from witnessing Ray Knight’s walkoff hit off of Tim Burke?
8. Who referred to Keith Hernandez as “dark, reflective, analytical, urban”?
9. What movie did Fred and I want to see instead of Stand By Me?
10. To what tune did I compose my own idiotic Super Bowl XXI song parody, “Giant Steps to Pasadena”?
11. What pitcher’s name did I invoke to shut up Danny the Yankee fan in Tampa?
12. Who spiked Jason’s foot in St. Petersburg?
13. What was Dwight Gooden’s ERA in the 50 starts that preceded his first loss of 1986?
14. In what 2006 film does the main character declare, “I hate the Mets”?
15. By what nickname did I refer to Rick Aguilera in my journal entry of July 23, 1986?
16. What brand of gasoline did Gary Carter endorse?
17. Why did my friend Chuck tell me he rooted for the Mets?
18. What was the Newsday back page headline that captured the essence of the age in June of ’86?
19. What was the front page headline of El Diario on September 18, 1986?
20. Which six seasons attempted to haunt me on one particular Friday?
EDITOR’S NOTE: The contest ended early Friday afternoon, 9/29, when we received the winning entry. The idenity of the winner and the answers are here. Please do not send in your answers, but feel free to play along at home for fun.
Incidentally, all contestants and non-contestants remain eligible to buy a shirt.